Today, NYAS has released the Summer 2022 instalment of our Across the Border report. In this research series, we take a look at the differences between laws across England and Wales which affect care-experienced young people. In our latest report, we’re making the case to extend their entitlement to Independent Visitors up to age 25.
What is an Independent Visitor?
An Independent Visitor is a trained volunteer who is uniquely placed to provide care-experienced children and young people with emotional support and stability.
Independent Visitors offer the chance for children and young people in care up to the age of 18 to build trusting and positive relationships with an adult who is not paid to be there.
Together, an Independent Visitor and a young person spend time with each other, create memories and have fun, trying anything from baking a new recipe to spending the day at the zoo.
Are Enough Children in Care Accessing Independent Visitors?
It is a statutory entitlement for young people in care to be offered an Independent Visitor. This means that, as a care experienced young person, it is your legal right to have an Independent Visitor if you’d like one.
Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that very few children in care are actually using Independent Visitor services.
- In England, only 3.3% of care-experienced children have an Independent Visitor.
- In Wales, only 1% of care-experienced children have an Independent Visitor.
What are the Benefits of Having an Independent Visitor?
Research has shown that if children and young people are regularly made to feel safe, respected and listened to by an adult or two in their lives, then their ability to recover from or cope with significant stresses improves.
That’s why Independent Visitors are so important. Yet many young people in care don’t even know that they have a right to access an Independent Visitor if it’s in their best interest. And with young people only able to access an Independent Visitor up to the age of 18, there’s a risk that they won’t have the chance to build the kind of trusting relationship that the service can provide.Advocacy
What can be Done to Improve Access to Independent Visitors?
A recommendation of the Independent Review of Children's Social Care for England is for local authorities to redesign their existing Independent Visitor schemes for children in care and care leavers to allow for long-term relationships to be built.
We think this presents the perfect opportunity to restructure the Independent Visitor schemes across England and Wales to make sure young people are supported up to the age of 25, just like they are for advocacy. We’d also like to see the three local authorities in Wales and the two in England without Independent Visitor schemes to start providing them, as is their legal obligation.
Daily, we see the positive effects that volunteers have on the lives of young people. This includes our Independent Visitors who are available up to the age of 18, and the care leaver mentors in our Side By Side project up to the age of 25. We want all young people in and leaving care to have this experience. Not 1% or 3.3%, but 100%.